How long before my content program shows results?

If you want to win big in content marketing, you have to be patient, persistent and in it for the long haul. In the first stretch of your journey, the aim should be primarily on audience development rather than flipping sums fast. By aligning your KPIs to this first objective – and syncing your overall program to your broader business strategy and goals – you’ll be able to recognise the value that your content is earning for you and your customers.

The cream of modern marketing is all about building a relationship with your audience. In this user-centric age, B2B and B2C customers crave partnerships with businesses or brands that are invested in helping them achieve their goals and get better at what they do. They want the kind of contact that isn’t just brands punching them in the face with promo ads.

Content can help you build a genuine, nurture-based relationship. And many Australian organisations have clocked on to this fact. Last year, CMI’s Benchmarks, Budgets & Trends report found the top priority of 84 per cent of Australian marketers over 2017 would be creating more engaging content. The latest 2018 B2B Content Marketing Survey (North America) has found that a staggering 92% top-performing B2B content marketing programs focus on building audiences.

But just like you wouldn’t say ‘hi’ to someone at a party, tell them one good story and then expect them to be your best chum forever, genuine and lasting relationships aren’t hatched overnight. They take time.

That’s not to say that the early stages of your content marketing have no indicators of success or return on investment (ROI) though. To better appreciate and measure the work that your content is doing on any kind of time-scale or level, it’s imperative to clarify what exactly ‘results’ mean – which will hinge upon the goal of your content marketing program and determine the metrics you use.

Framing ‘results’ as ‘content goals’

Measuring content success on pipeline value sounds obvious. But the reality is that doing so can lead businesses astray when it comes to creating a customer-centric and audience-first approach. This is especially pertinent for businesses dipping their toes in content marketing, or launching a new program.

Instead, with good metrics, sound attribution modeling and the right tools to suit your business goals, there are far more suitable KPIs that give a better indication of how your content is working to build those lasting relationships. Once this relationship reaches ‘strong and steady’ status, and that pay-off piece has been put into play, then pipeline value becomes the beautifully rich icing on your content marketing cake.

In fact, instead of using the word ‘results’ – which is a little too rigid and closed-minded a term – we recommend using ‘content goals’. This will give greater visibility and tangibility to the points your content program is scoring, and make it easier to communicate them to high-level management too.

For example, let’s say you’re a large tech company hosting a monumental product reveal in Sydney in a few months time (so like Apple, but not Apple). Your goal is to get as many target bums on seats as you can. To do this, and knowing that promotional emails are very often irritating, you decide to promote the event using content. In your podcast series, you mention the event details at least twice per episode and theme episodes around panel topics. You interview keynote speakers for feature articles on your website blog and post social tiles across platforms. Happily – using a pixel tracker and your website analytics – you see that content is driving people to register.

That’s one content goal fulfilled. There’s another though. You can’t expect people to show up even after they’ve registered – they may be tempted on the day to stay home and watch Game of Thrones instead. Your second content goal is to use content to build up the event hype, nurturing those registered individuals so that on the night, they’ll be there, gawping and clapping and tweeting on the event room floor – in other words, fulfilling your content dreams.

Cherry-picking KPIs to suit your goals

Knowing how well your content is doing, then, comes down to selecting and setting the right key performance indicators (KPIs). As a business, your goals are always going to be more complex and diverse than just bringing in dollars, though they may work in concert towards this bottom-line objective.

What content KPIs you cherry-pick will depend on what you want that content to achieve. It will also hinge upon the time and resources you’re able to invest – just like a farmer with 100 hectares and AI-powered tractors will have different goals than your green-thumbed neighbour who picks home-grown pomegranates to sell at the weekend marketplace fair. Both see the fruit of their labours, and will happily continue to seed, create and distribute – but the expectations they hold are very different.

Broad goals that are often matched with content marketing include awareness-raising, audience-building, lead generation and nurturing, and establishing your company as an authority and expert in its field. On a more granular level, your KPIs will be anything that points to audience or (even better) customer community growth.

Essentially, for the content program overall, the official KPIs you measure and report on will be content-based.

Here are some of the KPIs we most often use to track and relay content program success:  

  • Increase in new traffic, with a good balance of returning eyeballs
  • Downloads and form-fills
  • Event registration
  • New email subscribers
  • Page session duration and scroll depth
  • Click-through rate and user journeys
  • Select social media metrics (e.g. engagement, reach, cost-per-click, social following growth)

Two examples of content program success

For the University of Melbourne’s Pursuit content hub team, one success metric they wear proudly on their sleeve is the percentage of articles that are read right to the end – currently, an impressive third. They also track the global reach of the content, the media attention and pickup both in Australia and overseas, and the elevated profile of their academic contributors. The broad goal they’ve set themselves is to break into the top 50 news and current affair sites in Australia – an unimaginable target for them when they first started out in 2015.

For the Direct Advice for Dads (DAD) content hub – a partnership between HBF Health and Mahlab – the primary goal upon launch was building a loyal, niche audience of Australian dads. Our KPIs were measured in on-page engagement and return visits, site visitation and sessions, and social media interaction and page likes growth. Reach and awareness-building in the media and across the Australian parenting community at large were seen as particular achievements – particularly the eastern states, where HBF didn’t have any existing audience or customer-base.

Just over one year in, we’ve built an active community of more than 50k planning, new and expecting parents who use the humour-laden resource to share stories, insights, and tales of getting spewed on by their ‘blobs’. We’ve scooped up no less than four golden trophies at the 2017 Content Marketing Awards and shared the journey of our partnership with HBF at the ADMA Global Forum in August. Commercialisation of the content hub is a future priority – at the moment the hub has only low-key HBF branding and is completely ad- and call-to-action free. By creating an authentic, useful space first, audience trust is better cultivated and nurtured, with pipeline or revenue inflow only an untracked bonus – for now.

Kate Prendergast contributed to the writing of this article.

Articles you may also be interested in:
How HBF built an engaged audience with Direct Advice for Dads
Essentialise your content strategy
Top 6 takeaways from the 2017 ADMA Global Forum
Social savvy | What metrics should I use to measure content? 

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About Hallie Donkin: Hallie Donkin is Mahlab's Managing Editor – Brand. In nine years with the company, she's planned and created content about dogs, mortgages, project management, retirement, marketing automation and CRM, financial services, cybersecurity, and more. There's a story floating around that she got the job because she said she loved dogs. Reader, she did not in fact love dogs; she just loved words. But things have changed – her life goal now is to live with a pack of Golden retrievers.

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